Former Ram McGinnis Reaching New Heights in Arena League

KINGSTON, R.I. – Willie McGinnis has seen his Cleveland Gladiator teammates pull out last-second victories before. He's seen it three other times this season, in fact.

Saturday night was a little different, though. When quarterback Shane Austin's 47-yard touchdown pass landed in the arms of Dominick Goodman as time expired, it propelled Cleveland to a 69-68 win over Philadelphia and locked up an Arena Football League playoff spot for the Gladiators.

"Gaining a playoff birth is an unbelievable feeling," McGinnis told GoRhody.com. "For me, this is a first in my career, so it makes it that much more important. Being able to win that game on a literal last-second Hail Mary was crazy. Something amazing is happening with the Cleveland Gladiators and I'm grateful and blessed to be a part of this journey."

Saturday marked the fourth time Cleveland (12-1) has won on the final play of the game. It was the third time the Gladiators have won with a touchdown pass as time expired. They also beat the LA KISS, 45-42, on a field goal as the clock ran out.

"A lot of our fans will be sporting full heads of grey hair when it's all said and done," McGinnis joked. "We've had a lot of close games where it has come down to the last seconds. I feel as if it's because there is something special about this team. We've been saying that since camp opened; we could sense it. We have a lot of veterans on this team, a lot of unselfish people. These are guys who will give each other all they have and more, sacrifice their bodies on every play to ensure a victory."

McGinnis, in his second season in the AFL, said opponents know to expect a 60-minute dog fight from Cleveland.

"With that intensity in our play, we're kind of seen as the 'Cleveland Bad Boys,'" McGinnis said. "Teams know that when they meet us on that field, they had better come with their shoes laced up, helmets strapped tight and ready for war, because with us it'll be an all out dog fight for 60 minutes."

The key, McGinnis said, is focusing on trying to 1-0 each week.

"1-0 has been our mantra all season long," McGinnis said. "If we expend all our energy and effort into the task at hand during the week, focusing solely on each week's opponent, then we have that much more of an advantage. When it's all said and done, you can't go to playoffs and can't have the productive winning season you want if you're not 1-0 each week of the season. It's the mindset that this game is the most important game of the season."

It's a different season than his rookie year in the AFL, when McGinnis played for a Pittsburgh Power team that struggled to a 4-14 mark. He joined Cleveland in the offseason, and he has started every game for the Gladiators, which also went 4-14 a year ago. McGinnis leads Cleveland in sacks (7) and tackles for loss (8.5) with five games to go in the regular season.

"I have noticed a significant amount of improvement from last year to this year, McGinnis said of his own performance. "That's attributed to that fact that I have gained a grasp on the AFL game. I have a full season under my belt, and I was able to go back and critique myself in the offseason, learn from my mistakes and better myself.

"Another difference between these two seasons is that I feel as if this season I've become a better student of the game. I'm spending more time on film break down and understanding what each team will do offensively and what my individual match-ups will do and what tendencies they have."

McGinnis is enjoying his time in Cleveland. In addition to the on-field success, he has embraced the city itself, often visiting with local veterans and various youth groups.

"We have been fortunate enough to become greatly involved with the community, whether it be helping with community cookouts, Habitat for Humanity, visiting and interacting veterans or simply after-school programs with various Boys and Girls Clubs around Cleveland," McGinnis said. "Our team is blessed to be able to be a part of the great things this city and its people have to offer. There is something to be said about this city, a story to be told, and we're happy to be a part of its history."